The winding road took me to greater heights. The scene turned more spectacular and breath taking with every hairpin bend I covered. The gurgling river gushing past below, the pine and cedar trees standing tall on the sides and the mist slowing covering the light blue sky, everything added up to my joy and wonderment at the pleasures of life and the beauty of earth and the marvellous architecture and planning of the Supreme one.
I was on a week long holiday to the quiet hills to refresh and rejuvenate my mind from the hustle and bustle of my daily office routine. As soon as I got the opportunity I had escaped into the the arms of the tranquility of nature and the serne and cool woods and mountains. There was a quiet and unspoken plesaure in living admist nature, in lying still in the lap of Mother Nature. How blessed are the people who live here 365 days of the year, I thought, as I continued my climb up.
There was a small temple located at one of the hairpin bends and completely surrounded by trees. I wouldn’t have noticed had it been for the bells clanging in the peaceful environment. I decided to stop by and pay respects.
There was old man sitting there at the feet of the deity. He wore ragged clothes, had long untidy hair and looked like a beggar. But there was a twinkle in his eyes. He continued with his prayers. I roamed around the temple. When I came back to the entrance, the old man had finished his prayers and was watching me keenly. I didn’t know what to make of him. He came upto me asked,
“Sir, You a tourist?”
I nodded my head. The people here didn’t speak much English, I knew, and my grasp of the local language was elementary.
“Sir, I take you around, show you things you can’t see for yourself. You pay me some money... very nominal sir... please sir.”
I didn’t want anybody bossing me around as I went exploring the place. But from his words and gestures I had a feeling that he knew things about the place that no tourist guide manual could tell me. But to take a man who looked as if he was madman, along with me in a wild and lonely place like this seemed a presposterous idea.
Finally I gave in, my heart wanting to unravel all the secrets of the place I had fallen in love with. And my choice didn’t seem wrong. The guy knew some English and, yeah, he had a clear idea of the layout and topography of the place. He took me through ravines and caves, muddy paths along the woods, steep climbs and cliffs; but all the while I enjoyed. I was mesmerized by the simple beauty of the place, the multitude of geographical features and the loveliness of the whole place.
Every time a bird chirped or an animal growled in the distance, the oldman could quickly and easily tell me which creature was it. He taught me ways and means to spot animals and also how to keep safe from wild animals and beasts. We met spotted deers, wild sparrows and naughty monkey during our trail. Along our walk he enlightened me to his life. He introduced himself as the person who was once the landlord off this whole hill town, the proud headsman of this beautiful heaven and how he had been ousted and forced to be in exile. He spoke of how he longed to come back, how poverty and starvation during the years of his exile had given him a ragged appearance and how good knowledge of every nook and corner of his home town and its woods had enabled him to return to his beloved place.
I didn’t know how much to belive of all these. I had serious doubts of his mental stability. I remained quite for the rest of our walk and let him do the talking. He spoke at lenght about the mysteries and beliefs of the place, of the people and his own life entwined with the wiledrness of the place.
We watched the sun go down from the best view point in the whole locality. The sky turned orange-red and the sun bid us adieu till the next dawn. We walked back down to the village. We reached the place I met the old man.
I pulled out a hundred rupee note from my pocket and placed it in his outstretched palms. They were wrinkled and dirty.
“Thankyou sir... You good and kind. May God bless you and give you long years. He calling me now. You come back here again and again... It is a nice place. I no there next time you come, but you still enjoy. Your money will cover expense of my funeral. Thankyou... bye,bye sir. Have a good night.” He went back to the abode of God just as I had met him there, at the same place.
As I walked back to my hotel room I still pondered on the words of the old man. He had spoken wildly, maybe out of jest or sorrow, but from his talks I had learned that he was neither dumb nor could he be completely mad. But what was it about my hundred rupees covering his final rite expenses,I wondered.
Dinner was a quiet affair and there was a bonfire afterwards. I went to sleep late, but it was not easy to come by. The old man’s voice kept ringing in my ears. I woke up at the crack of dawn and decided to go to find him and may be go too see the sunrise with him.
I put on my jacket and started my climb uphill. At the temple premises I met him, there was no trace of him. There was a woman quitely sweeping the temple compound. I enquired about the old man.
She told me he had died at midnight last day and that some youth had taken his body to cremate it somewhere in the woods. His body was found in the ravine nearby. Nobody knew how he died. Some said he committed suicide, some put it to accidental fall. There were wild rumours about him.
It was as if something my sub conscious mind feared would happen had happened. The woman further informed me that the old beggar had managed to get a 100 rupee note ,which was found in his pocket,and that it had helped them to cover for his final journey, as he had no relations here.
I thanked her and continued my walk alone. My previos day’s companion eternally lost from the face of the Earth, removed from the place he loved so much. But I continued my walks, mind heavy with thoughts, uncomprehensible feelings at the loss of some one whom I hardly knew. But somewhere it struck, the brevity of life and spontainety of the end as I continued my walk to catch a glimpse of yet another time, the sun rising in my life.